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Water jihads and Moe Howard haircuts

When Noah spread out the first bits of gopher wood for his ark’s keel, he was building a monument to cataclysm. (I’ve no idea if the ark really had a keel.) Every 10 years, without fail, someone claims to have found the ark in the mountains of Turkey — book deals and 15 minutes in the sun. Two years ago, some Korean opportunists “found” the ark and released a series of photos from inside the vessel. The public went wild with anticipation. But the jig was up when one of the photos showed the presence of intact straw, remarkably fresh after thousands of years. The Koreans went into a denial mode that would have made P.T. Barnum and Baghdad Bob proud: “We faked the straw, but not the ark.”  No word on whatever happened to those Koreans, but safe money says they’re preparing for an expedition to Loch Ness.

(For more, see We've found Noah's Ark...)

The flood story, in some form, ranges across religions and cultures. Trek into the bowels of the Amazon and find the latest undiscovered tribe. They may not have clothes or be able to count past three. They may have no alphabet and hunt with sticks. They may hold no concept of hygiene and may be sporting Moe Howard haircuts — but they’ll sure have a whopping good flood story.

Almost from the dawn of time, water cataclysm has been based on too much of a good thing. Throw that archetype out the window and prepare for historical change — the barren age is upon us. For 20 years, watchdog groups and government organizations have warned that the glass is half-empty and water wars are coming. Even if only a portion of their statistics pan out regarding pending shortages, the outlook is alarming.

A 2011 National Intelligence Estimate report on water security, requested by the U.S. Department of State, said that the use of water as a weapon of war, or a means of terrorism will be increasingly likely beyond 2022. And what locations did the report specify? You guessed it: North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

The UN projects that 30 countries will be “water scarce” by 2025. Eighteen of the 30 are located in the Middle East or North Africa, including the usual suspects: Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. Piling on, the UN also predicts that over the next 20 years, the world’s per capita water supply will drop by a depressing third — with the worst strain in the above regions.

PLoS ONE, in a recent report, found that water scarcity affects 2.7 billion people for at least one month per year. The numbers are alarming — and climbing. Skeptics may scoff, but very soon at a minimum, water scarcity will be threatening the failure of failing states.

Water concerns are no longer theoretical — even in the U.S. Once viewed as infinite, the U.S. water supply is tightly wound around politics, agriculture and energy. California has become the poster-child for American water conflicts, with drought, water storage issues and environmental lawsuits ensuring that the problem will be around for decades to come. California farmers, despite bringing in $40 billion for the state’s economy each year, face increasing cutbacks and uncertainty.

In the Southwest, an area ravaged by historical drought, tempers have flared over an International Boundary and Water Commission plan releasing Rio Grande water to Mexico earlier than usual. Texas and New Mexico are desperate for every drop of water in the barrel.

Even in the Mississippi Delta, water change is coming. The Mississippi River may move at 100,000 cubic feet per second, but that copious flow masks a growing problem: The Delta’s water supply is no longer sustainable. Agricultural producers pump out 1.5 million acre feet from the aquifer yearly; through natural means, the aquifer is replenished with 1.2 million acre feet per year. The days of a limitless aquifer are no more.

There’s a brave new water world just around the bend, and it pays to be a nation sitting upstream. Water is the new oil — and the jihadis will soon be lining up to try and dump your portion on the ground.

TAGS: Management
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